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More than 1,000 ancient woods are under threat

Words: Laura Edgar

New figures have shown that the number of ancient woods under threat in the UK from built development has risen above 1,000 for the first time.

In response to its findings, the Woodland Trust has called on the government to guarantee protection for “irreplaceable” ancient woods and trees, stating it as a high priority.

The charity is aware of 1,064 ancient woodlands that are at risk of damage or destruction. There may be more that it has not been notified of.

This is the highest number since the trust started collecting the data in 1999.

Of the 1,064 cases, 801 are live planning applications, according to the trust, while the remaining 263 are included in council site allocation plans for future development.

Under threat

In December 2019, the Woodland Trust wrote letters of objection for 46 different planning applications across the UK where ancient woodland was at risk. As it is not a statutory consultee where ancient woodland is threatened, it has to check weekly planning lists of potential lists and rely on information from the public.

Current ancient woods under threat from development include:

  • Nun Bank Wood, the supposed resting place of Robin Hood in West Yorkshire, will be affected if a relief road around Kirklees proposed by Kirklees Council, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Calderdale Council is approved.
  • Mileplain Plantation, Attlebridge, Norfolk, will suffer direct loss if Norfolk County Council approves plans for a sand and gravel quarry;
  • Coed Wern in Glasinfryn,Bangor, will suffer direct loss should plans for 39 holiday lodges be approved by Gwynedd Council;
  • Three areas of ancient woodland in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, will be lost should the controversial Europark development of more than 2,500 new homes between the M8 and Airdrie get the green light.

Site allocations are the main nature of threat, followed by housing (175), utilities (148), railways (112), roads (91), agriculture (78) and leisure or sport (49).

The biggest single development project threatening ancient woods is HS2. At least 108 ancient woodlands will be lost or damaged by the project in its current form.

Site allocations pose the main threat, followed by housing (175); utilities (148); railways (112), roads (91), agriculture (78) and leisure or sport (49). For the Woodland Trust, HS2 is the “biggest single” project threatening ancient woodlands, with 108 ancient woodlands expected to be lost or damaged.

It is not just development causing problems for ancient woodland. The trust explains that they are facing several other threats, such as deposition of nitrogen from poultry farms near ancient woods and an “alarming growth” in threats of tree disease from imported plants and wood.

Director of conservation and external affairs Abi Bunker said: “We are in the grip of both a nature and a climate emergency. Recently political parties have made bold promises about tree planting. This is welcome, but the first step in helping trees to combat climate change and helping our threatened nature is to protect the valuable trees and woods we already have.

“These new figures make for depressing reading. What’s even more depressing is these are only the cases we know about. There could be many more woods under threat.”

She said “real protection” is needed for these ancient habitats, as well as legislation, policies and resources that are “fit to address the challenges” tree diseases present.

“Prevention is far cheaper than a cure, with the total cost of ash dieback to the UK estimated to be £15 billion.”

Bunker added that losing such “complex ecosystems”, which are home to thousands of species, is a “travesty, especially to inappropriate developments that could go elsewhere”.

Read more:

Government urged to consider environmental impacts of HS2

NPPF changes not protecting trees

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